My Attitude About Gratitude
11.18.11 Why it used to tick me off
Here it is Thanksgiving and I’m stuck on Mother’s Day. That’s because what my mother taught me about being grateful nags at me every day. I know, I know, gratitude is totally chic right now. It’s oh-so-Oprah and Zen. You don’t have to convince me it’s the best virtue since they invented hope, (which I’m a major fan of). It’s just that gratitude used to really tick me off. Here’s how my gratitude attitude started:
Growing up the youngest of eight children, hand me downs were a fact of life. One year, I got a brand new blue and green plaid school uniform instead of my sister’s outgrown model, but made the mistake of saying, “I wish I had a new outfit that wasn’t a uniform. I hate plaid.” My mother’s response was quick as a whip, “Be grateful for new things. Some people never have them.” Ouch, burn…She was right, of course, but it ticked me off, because instead of hearing valuable advice, I heard criticism. Here’s the thing, though, she didn’t say, “You should be grateful.” Nope – just, “be grateful.”
She continued this highly annoying habit of pointing out things to be grateful for whenever someone presented complaints. If someone said, “Good Lord it’s raining again,” she’d say, “I’m just grateful the air feels so fresh.” If I said, “My hair’s so frizzy,” she’d say, “I’d be so grateful to have hair that color.” See what I mean? Annoying! Why couldn’t she just let me whine instead of tossing droplets of gratitude into every living thing? Because she was teaching me a better way to look at the world. Of course, I couldn’t see that when I was younger. All I saw was, my mom wouldn’t support me to wallow in complaints and self-pity when the world was surrounded by beauty and delight.
My gratitude attitude started to shift after I married my husband. He too had the annoying habit of looking for reasons to be happy. For him, it was simple practicality. If something’s a problem – solve it. If something annoys you, scares you or frustrates you, look for the part that doesn’t. There! Feel better? “Why, yes, yes I do,” and since he wasn’t my mother, it wasn’t that annoying.
When we had our first child, gratitude hit me like thunder. There she was, that delightful little beauty. Sure my lady-parts were swollen and sore. Sure, my nipples were cracked and I was hallucinating with sleep deprivation, but … there she was and I was so deeply grateful for her. What the heck had happened to me? I’d been born into motherhood and gratitude was part of that birthing process. Weird, right?
My mother was totally right. What I had thought of as an admonishment to “quit your whining already,” (which, no doubt, I totally deserved) was actually solid advice for living well. Just be grateful. It’s a verb. It’s not something that happens to you. It’s something you do. It takes practice and diligence, but there it is…the secret to life. Being grateful. I’d also argue it’s the single most powerful parenting tool in the whole darn toolkit. Oh, all right, patience is pretty handy too, as is a sense of humor, but if you had to pick one tool, I’d say, gratitude is the Leatherman you need. Here’s how you use it:
Let’s say you’re in your first trimester, heaving your guts into a grubby toilet. You have every reason to feel sorry for yourself. But try something, will you? Pick anything in that moment you can be grateful for. Anything. Maybe it’s your pretty shower curtain. Maybe it’s the moment you quit barfing. Maybe it’s the reassurance that you’re surging with super-nauseating hormones that mean your pregnancy is progressing well. There! Feel better? Even just a little bit? Well that’s something to be grateful for.
Let’s say you’re a week over due and can’t roll over in bed without a support team. Quick – Be grateful. Grateful you didn’t deliver prematurely. Grateful that kind people will grab your legs and heave you over to your other side. Grateful you’re going to one more grown-up movie this afternoon with your husband, just the two of you.
This is one of my own favorite moments of gratitude. My one-year-old daughter was sitting atop my husband’s shoulders at a bookstore in Los Angeles. We were browsing novels we hoped to read someday when we had both money and time for something other than Pat The Bunny. My husband turned around with his back to the book table and the most peculiar look on his face. “Uh, honey, we have to get out of here right now.” He bolted for the store’s exit, gripping my daughter by the ankles so she wouldn’t bounce off her perch on his shoulders. I followed close enough behind to notice the trail of baby poop leaking out of her diaper and down his back. As we reached our car, I couldn’t decide whether to suppress my giggles or burst out laughing. As he lifted our daughter off his shoulders and over his head (smearing poop onto his hair), my husband said, “Oh my god, I am just so grateful I got out of there before I discovered whether she crapped on any books.”
And there you have it folks, the secret of life. No matter what kind of crap’s going down…there’s always something to be grateful for. There! Feel better? I thought you would. Thanks Mom. Happy Thanksgiving.
Jeanne Faulkner, R.N., lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and five children. Got a question for Jeanne? E-mail it to firstname.lastname@example.org and it may be answered in a future blog post.
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